Good God, I love Michael Ian Black. I especially love him when I can see him speak his words, rather than just read his words on paper, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love him. (You probably already knew that if you read my Stella and/or The Baxter and/or The State posts.) My Custom Van is a weird window into his mind, in case you’re into that sort of thing.
Actually, it’s not really a window. You can’t see through it, nor does it offer any insight into how his mind works per se. He doesn’t reveal anything particularly personal in the book, because most of it is fiction (I hope). It’s more like a shining example of how absurd he can get, and as you might imagine, he can get pretty absurd.
One of the greatest things about this guy is how distinct his voice is. Reading this collection of essays, I couldn’t imagine them said in any other voice but his. His wording and phrasing are so uniquely his, which is a feat in an age of constant sensory overload and one-up-manship in comedy. Even reading books like Bossypants and The Bedwetter–both of which I liked more than My Custom Van and both of which were actual memoirs–I got the sense that the authors were edited for the sake of appealing to a broader audience. I understand it; they wanted to sell some damn books. But My Custom Van, in all its nonsensicality, doesn’t sacrifice any… sense. It’s ridiculous and mostly hilarious, and it’s unabashedly MIB. Kudos to him for that.
I think the best essay in the book is one recommended to me by the aforementioned-on-this-blog cinematically inclined man. It’s entitled “What I Would Be Thinking If I Were Billy Joel Driving to a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano,” and it’s everything you want it to be. Of course, none of us are really that familiar with how Joel actually speaks, and MIB knows that, so he takes the liberty of applying his own bone-dry sarcasm to the situation. He’s also the king of the improvised riff (and if you don’t believe me, listen to his podcast). The result is a bitter tirade from a worn-out pop star. My favorite line, out of context: “Hi, I’m Benicio. I’m so cool. I’m sooooo cool. I should start going by Billicio. I’m Billicio del Joelio. I play pianolo.”
My second favorite essay is entitled “Taco Party,” and it exemplifies one of MIB’s strongest qualities as a writer. He’s great at knowing when profanity is funny, and when it’s funnier omitted. In this essay, he makes complete over-done use of the word “fuck,” as in, “This is going to be the ultimate fucking taco party/swimming party/sparkler fuckfest.” And my other favorite line: “Maybe you like chopped green onion drizzled in olive oil. Hey, fucking dicknose ass-cheeks shithead–I WILL HAVE CHOPPED GREEN INIONS DRIZZLED IN OLIVE OIL!!!” I secretly hope this is some sort of commentary on how so many comedians today lean on cursing to make themselves seem edgier, funnier, and cooler. Because it’s fucking working.
And now, as I’ve grown accustomed to doing, here are my other favorite quotes from the book, in chronological order, because they deserve to be read and re-read.
p. 28 // “Geniuses are the worst. If you are at all like me, you believe that geniuses were put on this earth to rub your nose in the stink of your own mediocrity.”
p. 76 // “Interestingly, my dick is now almost the exact same color as the badminton shuttlecock.”
p. 88 // “The British accent has always struck me as the most servile of accents, and my robot with be nothing if not servile.”
p. 126 // “I met a couple of honeys who had a taste for the finer things in life. Like nachos and my dick.”
p. 141 // “All candy tastes superior to its natural counterpart. This is why grapes are referred to as ‘nature’s candy,’ but candy is not referred to as ‘humanity’s grapes.’ Those are testicles.”
p. 208 // “Besides, jug band music isn’t something you hear–it’s something you feel. With your ears. You ear-feel it. Which, I guess technically, is the same thing as hearing.”
pp 216-7 // “18. Either develop scoliosis or quit talking about developing scoliosis. As far as scoliosis goes, this year is definitely ‘shit or get off the pot’ time… 28. Give strangers more advice about how to raise their children. While I do not claim to be an expert in raising children, I do have some pretty strong opinions on the subject, developed over years of doing things exactly right… 29. Stop relying on my salt lick to get my daily allowance of salt. It grosses people out and there are definitely better ways to get my iodine.”
p. 221 // “Hell to the fuck yes.”